Favorite interviews … man, that’s like picking your favorite child. I’ve gotten to talk to so many of my musical heroes: Todd Rundgren, Bill Nelson, Joan Armatrading, Peter Gabriel, Jorma Kaukonen, Russell Mael from Sparks, Led Zep bassist John Paul Jones, Cheap Trick madman Rick Nielsen (who once flipped me off at Bogart’s for taking his picture; I had a photo pass), Mountain guitar god Leslie West, the loquacious Peter Wolf from the J. Geils Band (who said to me, “Sincerity is the most important thing in this industry, and when you learn how to fake that, buddy, you got it made...”), the ever brilliant Jules Shear, Tommy Keene, Alejandro Escovedo, Aimee Mann, Steve Wynn, Frank Black, Marianne Faithfull, Alice Cooper (two days after 9/11; we were scheduled the day of the attacks but obviously pushed it back) and newer icons like the Shins’ James Mercer, all of the New Pornographers, Joe Pernice, Mike Doughty, Ryan Adams, Rosanne Cash, Bob Pollard (who I reminisced with from his days as a customer at Wizard Records, when we knew him as “Bob from Dayton”) and an un-nameable parade of so many others. I’ve gotten so much from each and every interaction, it’s hard to point at any of them as favorites.
So rather than favorites, maybe I should call out a memorable moment. One was with the amazing Chuck Cleaver (Wussy/Ass Ponys), but it wasn’t an interview. I happened to sit down next to him at a CityBeat summer picnic. The year before, the first full year of the paper’s operation, I’d done a story on Freedy Johnston; after we’d finished our interview, he asked what paper this was going in and when he heard Cincinnati, he said, “Oh, you guys have The Ass Ponys.” I confirmed the fact, and Freedy mentioned that Chuck was his favorite new songwriter. That seemed like a pretty cool quote to include, so I did.
When Chuck and I were introduced at the picnic table, he stopped for a beat and then said, “You wrote the Freedy Johnston piece last year, right?” I said that I had, and Chuck said, “Thanks for that, man, it meant a lot to me.” I said, “Well, Freedy was the one who said it, but I accept your thanks on his behalf.” Chuck gave me a classic Chuck look, one that I have seen many times over the years, and said, “Duh. I know he said it. But how long did you talk to him? Half an hour? Forty-five minutes? And how much of that interview did you use in the actual story? Probably not very much. So you chose to put in that bit about Freedy talking about me. You chose. And that’s why I’m thanking you. You.”
And that was perhaps the most important lesson I’ve ever learned about the responsibility involved in doing what we do, the decisions we make as far as the narrative and the direction of the stories we write. I think about that every time I come to a crossroad in a piece I’m writing.